TT: Aaron Craft, obviously, is one of the great defenders in college basketball, but he's scoring more this year than ever before. What's driven his offensive improvement?
LGHL: Craft's definitely looked a lot more comfortable with the ball so far. More than anything though, the Buckeyes in general are looking to get out in transition more, which has created a lot of easy looks at the rim for Craft. He's taken 64.4% of his shots this season at the rim actually according to hoop-math.com, making 62.1% of them. That means that despite his field goal attempts dropping from 8.4 per game last year to 7.5 this year, he's been able to increase his efficiency and score a bit more. I don't actually think he looks particularly different in the half court, but he has been a large beneficiary of the Buckeyes playing a bit more up-tempo basketball.
TT: Ohio State's scoring, as a whole, has been extremely balanced. No one averages more than 11 points per game, but there's a lot of depth. Who can do the most offensive damage against Maryland?
LGHL: Your guess is honestly as good as mine. The Buckeyes start two point guards in Craft and Shannon Scott, and those guys really look to get everyone involved in the offense. Both Craft and Scott top 10 in the Big Ten in assists so far this season and I'd expect that to continue. The guy that really hadn't gotten it going until the North Florida game over the weekend was LaQuinton Ross, who has far and away the most offensive upside on the team when he's engaged in the action. He's a 6'8" forward with three-point range and the ability to handle the ball. Ross is always my guess to lead the Buckeyes in points whenever he plays just because one of these nights he's going to go off for 30 and I'm going to look stupid for not choosing him. So I'll say Ross does the most offensive damage tonight.
LGHL: Defense in the backcourt is literally the last thing I'm worried about on this team. Hell, defense in general is the last thing I'm worried about. For my money, Craft isn't even the best perimeter defender on the team, it's Scott. There is no player that Scott can't stay in front of, and he's equally as tenacious as Craft. Craft has the better hands and creates more turnovers with his physicality, but Scott really gets after it on that end. On top of that, there's Ohio State's glue-guy Lenzelle Smith who is a defensive specialist and probably will end up guarding Layman tonight. Sam Thompson is another 6'7" guard-forward oozing athleticism with long arms that plays defense.
For my money, there isn't a better defensive team in the NCAA this year than Ohio State. To this point, KenPom.com has them as the best defense in the country by nearly four points over second place Louisville. The difference between Ohio State and second place Louisville in this metric is equivalent to the difference between Louisville and 18th place Colorado. They're allowing teams to shoot only 35% from the field this season, and have a turnover margin of +5.2. Their defense is their calling card this season, and they bring it with them every game.
TT: What needs to happen for the Buckeyes to stave off an upset?
LGHL: For the Buckeyes to win I'd say they just need to keep doing what they've been doing. Their worst half of the season was their first half against Marquette, where they didn't really try to push the ball at all. If they can get stops/turnovers and quick outlets to the point guards in order to push the ball, I think they'll win pretty easily. I don't really even worry about the defense showing up anymore. I know that will be there. But if Maryland can make this game rely on Ohio State's half court execution on offense, that could pose problems for the Buckeyes.
TT: Lastly, what's your on-the-record prediction for the game?
LGHL: My on-the-record prediction, haha. So official. Umm...I think that Maryland's potentially a tournament team this year, but probably just aren't quite there yet as far as beating one of the big boys on the road yet. I'd say it's close for the first 30 minutes or so, then Ohio State pulls away, winning 68-55.